AFC West: Mike Nolan

There’s no doubt the Denver Broncos should be disappointed that they are losing defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.

When the Broncos hired Allen last year, they knew he’d likely get some head-coaching opportunities, but they thought he’d stick around Denver for two or three years. Yet Allen was plucked by Oakland as its head coach after one season as head coach. The Broncos’ defense improved immensely under Allen’s guidance.

Now Denver's defense will have its seventh defensive coordinator in seven seasons. Think about that. Champ Bailey and D.J. Williams have both worn a Denver uniform since 2004. They will now have their seventh coach in seven years.

The transition this year will not nearly be as difficult because Denver head coach John Fox is defensive-minded. While Allen did a good job, Fox deserves a lot of credit for Denver’s improvement and will ensure the Broncos don’t take a step backward on defense.

I think the two names we have to look at as a candidate to replace Allen are former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio and Denver linebacker coach Richard Smith. Del Rio was a coordinator for Fox in Carolina and Smith is extremely experienced as well.

The Broncos will miss Allen, but I think they are in better shape on defense than it may appear.

Here is a look at the Broncos’ defensive coordinators in the past six years: Larry Coyer (2006, fired), Jim Bates (2007, fired), Bob Slowik (2008, fired), Mike Nolan (2009, departed in mutual decision), Don Martindale (2010, fired), Allen (2011, hired by Oakland).

Chargers: What needs to be done

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Now that San Diego coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith are returning to the team in 2012, let’s look at some things the Chargers have going for them and areas where change may be necessary.

What to build upon:

Quarterback Philip Rivers: This is an elite quarterback. Yes, he didn’t have his greatest season. Yes, he made crucial mistakes in all eight of the Chargers’ losses. But he is a player than can lead the Chargers deep into the playoffs. He finished the season strong and threw just three interceptions in the final six games.

Running back Ryan Mathews: Smith’s big trade to move up to get Mathews with the No. 12 pick in 2010 looked to be a good decision in Mathews’ second season. He ran for 1,091 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Mathews should only get better and offer the Chargers’ offense great balance.

The trio of Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates: It was no shock that Rivers settled down when his three receiving weapons were healthy together late in the season. If these players (Jackson is a free agent and he may be franchised) can stay healthy next year, the Chargers will be in great shape.

Changes may be needed:

Defensive coordinator: Don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is fired. I know there was some disappointment in San Diego over the unit’s lack of success under Manusky. The Chargers were the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL last year under Ron Rivera, who was hired as the head coach in Carolina. Manusky didn’t get the same results as Rivera did and I could see change. I know San Diego’s players like secondary coach Steve Wilks and he could be a possibility. Another option could be Miami defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

Offensive line: With plenty of needs on defense, San Diego may have to use some resources on the offensive line. Guard Kris Dielman, tackle Marcus McNeill and center Nick Hardwick all may consider retirement. There is a chance all three players will return, but the odds are the Chargers are facing some change on the line. One potential solution is re-signing tackle Jared Gaither, who shined after being claimed off waivers from Kansas City.

Front-line help: This is the year the Chargers need to open up their pocket book. It is not Smith’s way to do much in free agency. That may need to change this year. The Chargers’ roster needs some fine tuning and spending for reliable help may be the answer whether it was Smith’s past philosophy or not. This is a do-or-die year in San Diego, so a change in philosophy may be needed.
ESPN’s John Clayton reported the Broncos have agreed to terms with Dante Rosario, who played for new Denver coach John Fox. The Broncos are still in the mix for St. Louis’ Daniel Fells.

If the Broncos sign Fells, they could have major change at the position. Even if Fells is not signed, there should be change at tight end in Denver. Veterans Dan Gronkowski and Richard Quinn could have difficulty making the team. The Broncos like draft picks Julius Thomas (fourth round) and Virgil Green (seventh). Rosario is an athletic player who has good hands. Fells had 41 catches for the Rams last year and he is a threat as a blocker at 270 pounds.

Meanwhile, former Denver defensive tackle Ron Fields went to Miami. He is now with Mike Nolan on his third team, joining the Broncos and 49ers. The Broncos are visiting with former New England defensive lineman Ty Warren and there is a chance he signs with them.

Meanwhile, San Francisco may be closing in on bring back defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin. He had been connected to Kansas City, but the Chiefs signed nose tackle Kelly Gregg on Saturday.

Former Denver tight end Daniel Graham agreed to terms with the Titans.

Could Michael Huff play cornerback in Oakland? It’s an interesting thought, but it’s risky. If that’s the case, perhaps Oakland will still pursue San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson.
With the Jim Harbaugh pipedream all but over for the Denver Broncos, new Denver football czar John Elway is streamlining his wish list.

If Denver fans are looking for a household name or seat filler, they may want to temper your hopes. While the list can change at any time, the current group of the Broncos’ candidates is not filled with bright-light names.

Elway said Friday the Broncos are likely out of the Harbaugh talks. Elway did say he is seeking permission to talk to former Denver assistant and current Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and he may call former Giants coach Jim Fassel. Elway has ties to both men.

Other people Denver is going to interview are Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell (who may be the top choice at the moment) and Denver interim coach Eric Studesville. New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is expected to be interviewed when the Saints’ season is complete. Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey (considered by many as a top Denver choice) has postponed his interview until after the Falcons’ season ends.

Once you get past Mularkey and perhaps Fewell, this isn’t an overly exciting list. It’s not to say these aren’t good coaches, but they are far from Harbaugh when it comes to name recognition.

In the end, I’m not surprised Harbaugh probably isn't going to end up in Denver. He was too costly for the Broncos’ blood. Plus, I’m not sure if it was a great fit. It seems to me that Harbaugh is the type who will want to make his own decisions. After moving away from Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels in the past two years, the Broncos want their coach to just coach and not make personnel decisions.

Any of the above names would surely be fine with that arrangement.

I wouldn’t be surprised if other names pop up. They could include former Baltimore coach Brian Billick, Miami defensive coordinator and former Denver defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Philadelphia assistant Marty Mornhinweg, San Diego defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

Billick could be an interesting candidate. He likely wouldn’t be overly expensive and he has had a lot of NFL success.

AFC West mailbag

December, 29, 2010
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Mid-week mail call:

Aaron R. from Saint Augustine, Fla., wants to know if fired San Francisco coach Mike Singletary could be a candidate to be the defensive coordinator in Denver.

Bill Williamson: Well, we need to see who the next head coach is going to be first. But it’s a good thought. Singletary, who was fired Sunday night, will likely be a candidate to be a defensive coordinator somewhere. If he has a connection with the next coach in Denver, I could see him being a candidate. Denver’s previous coach, Josh McDaniels, brought in the man Singletary replaced in San Francisco, Mike Nolan, as his defensive coordinator two years ago. Perhaps history will be repeated.


Joey from Los Angeles wants to know what was the biggest reason why the Chargers didn’t make the playoffs.

BW: The Chargers are 8-7, thus there are a lot of reasons why they were a disappointment this season. But I think you have to point to the special teams issues that handcuffed this team for the first three quarters of the seasons as the biggest reason why the Chargers’ run has ended. The Chargers just couldn’t overcome their myriad of problems on special teams soon enough and it cost them dearly.


Michael from Iowa wants to know if the Raiders could make a play for Denver quarterback Kyle Orton.

BW: I think it may be a long shot. I think the only way Orton ends up in Oakland in 2011 is if Denver releases him. If the Broncos go with Tim Tebow as the starter and gets rid of Orton, they will likely look to trade him. There may be a market since there are always teams looking for an upgrade at quarterback. I’d doubt the Broncos would deal him to Oakland. Anyway, the Raiders would have to decide to replace Jason Campbell before pursuing Orton.

Denver candidates, AFC West style

December, 17, 2010
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Romeo CrennelAP Photo/Ed ZurgaDenver could take a long look at Kansas City coordinator Romeo Crennel for its next coach.

While the other three teams in the AFC West have kept their playoff hopes alive going into Week 15, the Denver Broncos are focused on finding a new coach after the season in light of their firing of coach Josh McDaniels earlier this month.

There will be several names that get connected to the Denver job in the next few weeks and the Broncos probably will interview several candidates. It won’t be a shock if their search includes an assistant from each of the three other teams in the division. Because of success in certain areas, Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego all have staff members who could draw interest from elsewhere.

Here is a look at a potential candidate for the Denver job from each staff in the division:

Kansas City

Romeo Crennel, defensive coordinator:

Why he could fit in Denver: Crennel has NFL head-coaching experience. He coached the Cleveland Browns from 2005-08 and in those four seasons his record was 24-40. His record isn't great, but Crennel has a strong history as an NFL assistant and the Broncos may think he could do better in his second turn as a head coach. Plus, he wouldn’t be overly expensive, which is an important element for Denver owner Pat Bowlen, who has to pay Mike Shanahan, McDaniels and a new coach in 2011. The combination of Crennel’s head-coaching experience and his affordability will make Crennel attractive, along with the likes of Mike Nolan or Gary Kubiak (if he’s fired in Houston). Crennel has done a fine job in his first season as the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator. The young Chiefs’ defense is playing aggressive, smart football and is a reason why Kansas City leads the division. Crennel’s influence in Kansas City has to be noticed in Denver.

Why he may not fit in Denver: Crennel is 63. That is rather old for an NFL head coach these days. I’m not sure Denver is looking for another 32-year-old like McDaniels was when Denver hired him in January, 2009, but I bet it is looking for a younger coach than Crennel. Plus, Crennel is part of the Bill Belichick New England coaching tree. Denver might think twice before picking a coach off that tree again so soon after the McDaniels debacle. (Prior to being hired in Denver, McDaniels was New England’s offensive coordinator.) Plus, like Kansas City offensive coordinator and fellow former New England assistant Charlie Weis, Crennel may ultimately be looked at as a great coordinator, but a not-so-good head coach.

[+] EnlargeOakland's Hue Jackson
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREOakland offensive coordinator Hue Jackson may have the offensive approach the Broncos are seeking.
Oakland

Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator

Why he could fit in Denver: Jackson is an offense-minded coach. That has long been the direction of the team. Jackson coaches the zone-blocking running scheme that Denver ran from 1995 until this season. Much of Denver’s offensive personnel is suited for that scheme. Jackson is a young coach who is well liked by his players and he is very energetic. Hiring a players' coach could be the direction the Broncos want to go in after McDaniels’ tenure, when there was a clear separation between the staff and the roster. In Jackson’s first year in Oakland, the Raiders have gone from No. 31 to No. 9 in the league in scoring. Jackson, who has no NFL head-coaching experience, wouldn’t break the bank, which would fit Denver’s criteria. Plus, hiring the offensive coordinator of the team that hung 59 points on you could sell in Denver.

Why he may not fit in Denver: The Broncos may want someone with more NFL credentials and his lack of head-coaching experience could get in the way. Plus, getting Jackson out of Oakland and into Denver could be difficult. It’s hard to imagine Raiders owner Al Davis letting Jackson -- whom Davis greatly admires -- go to his arch rival. The only way Davis could prevent the move probably would be to promote Jackson to head coach, but Tom Cable has done a good job this season. In the end, there may be a lot of obstacles to the Jackson-Broncos pairing, but I’m sure Denver will at least consider interviewing Jackson.

San Diego

Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator

Why he could fit in Denver: It would get Rivera out of San Diego, and that wouldn’t hurt the Broncos. Rivera’s defense in San Diego has been ranked No.1 throughout the season. Even though the history in Denver has been to hire an offense-first coach, the defensive side of the ball has been lacking. The Broncos may look seriously at defensive coaches. The Broncos are on their fifth defensive coordinator in five seasons and they need stability. Denver has allowed more points than any team in the league this season. Rivera is a smart, high-character coach. Plus, he has a history of strong results as the defensive coordinator in Chicago and San Diego. Rivera has interviewed for several NFL jobs. This might be the year he finally gets his chance to run a team. Rivera could be attractive to the Broncos’ fan base because there is a large Hispanic population in Denver. The hiring of Rivera would create excitement in the community.

Why he may not fit in Denver: If the Broncos insist on staying on the offensive side of the ball, Rivera won’t get a look. If Denver is looking for a high-profile candidate, Rivera wouldn’t fit, either. Rivera is an understated guy who will never be the face-of-the-organization type. The former Bears linebacker is a hard-working, detailed-oriented coach who believes in keeping his head down. If the Broncos are looking for a rah-rah type to restore excitement in Denver, Rivera might not be the right guy.

A Denver candidate to keep an eye on

December, 11, 2010
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There will be a lot of names floated in connection to the Denver Broncos’ head-coaching vacancy.

Here’s one name to file away for next month: Mike Nolan.

It makes perfect sense that Nolan is somebody Denver considers. Ownership is familiar with Nolan as he had two previous stints with the Broncos, including last season when he was the team’s defensive coordinator. He also brings head-coaching experience, after three season as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

While he and Josh McDaniels parted ways after one season because they decided they couldn’t work well together, Nolan got along with other key factions of the team. Most importantly, the Broncos’ defense was successful under Nolan. It has crashed badly ever since Nolan left to become Miami’s defensive coordinator.

Denver has had five defensive coordinators in the past five seasons. It will likely have a sixth defensive coordinator next season. Bringing back Nolan would give the unit much-needed stability, something that the Broncos badly crave since McDaniels lasted only 23 months.

Another factor would be that owner Pat Bowlen can hire Nolan without breaking the bank. Bowlen still has to pay Mike Shanahan and McDaniels next season.

Denver COO Joe Ellis said earlier this week the new coach likely won’t have the personnel power Shanahan and McDaniels had. I don’t think that would be a stumbling block for Nolan, who would likely cherish the chance for another head-coaching opportunity.

I’m not saying Nolan will end up being the choice, or that he is the perfect choice, but his candidacy in Denver makes sense for a lot of reasons.

Broncos have to end firing game

December, 7, 2010
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The Denver Broncos have to get out of the firing business.

This team hasn’t been to the playoffs since the 2005 season and there has been an avalanche of change in Denver since. The team has been in a firing frenzy. That trend was started by former coach Mike Shanahan, who was famous for firing people if the Broncos ever slipped. But owner Pat Bowlen has continued that trend after he fired Shanahan.

Denver has to find the right people for the job and it extends past the head coach. The Broncos must find the right person to replace Josh McDaniels, who was fired 23 months after taking over for Shanahan, who lasted 14 years on the job.

[+] EnlargePat Bowlen
AP Photo/Joe MahoneyBroncos owner Pat Bowlen needs to establish some continuity within the organization.
The following is a look at some key firings in Denver and how they are still affecting this floundering franchise:

Head coach

Firing history: McDaniels clearly wasn’t the right man to replace Shanahan. Now, after going almost a decade and a half with the same coach, Bowlen has to start a coaching search for the second time in less than two years.

Current state: The Broncos have quickly gone from one of the most stable NFL franchise to being one in disarray. Two years ago, this was perhaps the most attractive job in the league because Shanahan left it in pretty good shape. With a stripped talent base and lack of an identity, this has the look of a team whose reconstruction could take awhile.

Defensive coordinator


Firing history: The defense has been a mess for several years in Denver. The beginning of the end of the Shanahan era was when Shanahan fired defensive coordinator Larry Coyer after the 2006 season. Shanahan was looking for a scapegoat after a late-season collapse. Coyer was the victim. What a mistake. Coyer, now the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis, is one of the best defensive coaches in the league. All stability on that side of the ball left with Coyer. It began a parade of one-year failures. Jim Bates, Bob Slowik and Mike Nolan all lasted one season in Denver. Nolan and McDaniels mutually decided to part ways after last season. Nolan did a fine job in Denver. McDaniels blew it by not making it work with Nolan, who is now in Miami.

Current state: Don Martindale will, in all likelihood, be the latest one-year Denver defensive coordinator, meaning Denver will have six defensive coordinators in six seasons. There is little chance Martindale will be kept by the new head coach. Another coaching change could potentially mean the Broncos could move back to the 4-3 base defense that Shanahan used.

Front office

Firing history: Another underrated loss was when Shanahan fired general manager Ted Sundquist. Shanahan had more power than Sundquist and he got rid of him. It was a mistake. Sundquist was a good personnel man who was detailed-oriented and who built the bottom of Denver’s roster very well. The Broncos’ roster was always deep when Sundquist was around. The team has gotten thin since he left. After Sundquist -- who is still without a job and who would likely jump at the chance to return to the Broncos -- was fired, Shanahan promoted the father-son team of Jim and Jeff Goodman. When Shanahan was gassed, the Goodmans stayed and were part of the group that hired McDaniels. They were abruptly fired less than two months after McDaniels was hired. This was a bad sign. McDaniels played a role in firing two people who were part of the decision-making team that just hired him. He had too much power for a 32-year-old first-time head coach.

Current state: Brian Xanders is the general manager, but McDaniels had more control over the team than Xanders. His future with the team is unclear. The Broncos need experienced help in the personnel department and a strong general manager would help.

Whatever happens, Denver has to stop this string of mistakes and settle on the right people at several positions.

Josh McDaniels forced Denver's hand

December, 6, 2010
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Josh McDanielsRon Chenoy/US PresswireJosh McDaniels finished his two-year tenure in Denver with an 11-17 record.
Can you blame the Denver Broncos for firing Josh McDaniels?

Perhaps no NFL coach in recent memory has torn down a team as quickly as McDaniels, who was hired as a 32-year-old hotshot in January 2009 and fired less than 23 months later. He will forever be known as someone who clearly got too much too soon and was unwilling to do it any way but his own.

When McDaniels took over, the Broncos were on the doorstep of the playoffs and were a team that just needed some tinkering and refreshing after the 14-year Mike Shanahan era grew stale. McDaniels leaves Denver after 28 games with the franchise in terrible shape and without a true identity.

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen waffled on the coaching decision last week, but emphatically changed his mind 24 hours after his team was officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 3-9 record and a quarter of the season remaining. His decision answered the pleas from legions of Denver fans who have been calling for McDaniels’ head since Oct. 17 -- when the Broncos lost by 45 points at home to Oakland.

The Broncos fired McDaniels before even deciding who would be the interim coach. This is not a similar situation to the recent head-coaching changes in Minnesota and Dallas. There is no legitimate spark to be made, no season to salvage. The Broncos are in the look-ahead mode and they are doing so without McDaniels.

There are, of course, two smoking guns in this situation: the recent videotape scandal and McDaniels’ 5-17 record after starting his NFL head-coaching tenure with a 6-0 record.

The word around the franchise is that Bowlen and CEO Joe Ellis were very upset about the scandal. By not waiting until after the season to fire McDaniels, perhaps the Broncos can get out of paying McDaniels his salary for the final two years of his contract. That would certainly give Denver, which also has to pay Shanahan next year, a boost in hiring a replacement in January.

The NFL concluded that video director Steve Scarnecchia acted alone when he videotaped a San Francisco walk-through the day before the 49ers beat the Broncos in London on Oct. 31. The league had no proof McDaniels knew that Scarnecchia -- whom McDaniels knew when the two were in New England -- was planning to tape the practice. But McDaniels was still fined by the league for not disclosing the incident once he found out. That may be good enough reason for the team to prove it had cause to fire McDaniels.

The videotape incident was far from McDaniels’ only issue. He made several questionable calls in his short Denver tenure that all played a role in the Broncos’ demise.

McDaniels showed his feisty side less than two months into the job when he tried to get his backup quarterback in New England, Matt Cassel, in a trade that would have involved 25-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler. McDaniels couldn’t score Cassel, who ended up in Kansas City, and then feuded with Cutler before shipping the quarterback to Chicago. Cutler is probably heading to the playoffs with the Bears this season while McDaniels is heading to the unemployment line.

Other famous McDaniels gaffes include trading running back Peyton Hillis to Cleveland for No. 3 quarterback Brady Quinn and trading Denver’s No. 1 pick in 2010 to take cornerback Alphonso Smith in the second round in 2009 -- only to give up on Smith this year.

McDaniels also parted ways with successful defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after one season and changed Shanahan’s patented zone-blocking running scheme to a more traditional power scheme. Denver’s run game has been at the bottom of the NFL nearly all season.

The Broncos went from one of the more attractive organizations in the NFL to one in total disarray. McDaniels will go down as one of the most reviled figures in Denver sports history.

The timing of his firing may have been a surprise, but in the end it was deserved.

How I See It: AFC West Stock Watch

December, 1, 2010
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Denver’s defense: The Broncos have allowed 100 points in the past three games and have allowed an NFL-high 323 points under first-year defensive coordinator Don Martindale. Denver allowed a total of 324 points last season under Mike Nolan, who departed after one season because he and coach Josh McDaniels mutually decided to part ways. McDaniels may have to look for another defensive coordinator.

2. Oakland’s run game: The Raiders’ run game has gone flat during a two-game losing skid. Oakland had 16 yards on 12 carries in a loss to Miami on Sunday and it has 77 yards total in the past two games. Oakland has tumbled from No. 2 to No. 5 in the NFL because of the drought.

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Dwayne Bowe
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesDwayne Bowe has 32 catches and seven touchdowns in the past three games.
3. Oakland’s quarterback situation: Bruce Gradkowski has re-injured a shoulder that kept him out five games. That means Jason Campbell may be the starter for an extended period, perhaps even for the rest of the season. If Oakland -- which has benched Campbell twice this season -- wants to pull him again, it will have to go to No. 3 quarterback Kyle Boller. Yes, it's a mess. It may not be a JaMarcus Russell-like mess, but it’s clear the Raiders are heading back to square one at the position.

RISING

1. Kansas City’s offense: The Chiefs’ offense is rolling. It has scored 102 points in the past three weeks. Quarterback Matt Cassel has thrown 18 touchdown passes and one interception in the past seven weeks. Running back Jamaal Charles is second in the NFL with 1,021 rushing yards and receiver Dwayne Bowe has 32 catches and seven touchdowns in the past three games. It's as if first-year offensive coordinator Charlie Weis never left the NFL.

2. San Diego’s defensive scoring ability: The Chargers’ defense scored more than their offense did in a 36-14 win at Indianapolis on Sunday. Linebacker Kevin Burnett and safety Eric Weddle both returned interceptions off Peyton Manning for touchdowns. The San Diego offense scored one touchdown while settling for five field goals. It’s a strange way to get to 36 points, but I’m sure San Diego will take it.

3. The race: It should be a fun race to the finish in the AFC West. Kansas City has won two straight games and is in first place at 7-4. San Diego has won four straight games and is 6-5. Oakland is on the edge of the race at 5-6. I expect the Chiefs and Chargers -- who play Dec. 12 in San Diego -- to slug this out to the end and demonstrate that the division is getting better and becoming relevant in the NFL landscape again. These are two legitimate playoff contenders heading into December.

Afternoon AFC West notes

August, 5, 2010
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Let’s catch up on some notes on a busy Thursday in the AFC West:

San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips is going to have to deal with a civil trial during the season.

Football Outsiders looks at the history of recovery times from torn pectoral injuries and concludes there is little chance Elvis Dumervil will return this season.

Former Denver defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has kind words for his former boss, Denver coach Josh McDaniels.

All sentiment aside Insider, here is a column that says the late Don Coryell is not worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kansas City rookie receiver/returner Dexter McCluster has been impressive in training camp.

A Colorado family named Tebow is interested in the newest Colorado resident named Tebow.

Oakland rookie defensive lineman Alex Daniels is trying his hand at fullback. When I was at Oakland’s camp last week, Daniels routinely won his heat in the post-practice 100-yard runs.

Kansas City rookie tight end Tony Moeaki continues to be very impressive.
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling:

Ronald Fields, defensive lineman, Denver:

Fields was arrested in Houston last weekend for carrying a gun. He faces misdemeanor charges. It has not been a great offseason for Fields. First, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan (the man responsible for bringing Fields to Denver last year) surprisingly left Denver. Then, the Broncos brought in a new starting defensive line and now this. Fields is expected to be a rotational player this season. Still, this development doesn’t help his already falling star in Denver.

Rising:

Ryan Mathews, running back, San Diego:

The Chargers were very pleased what they saw of Mathews in their rookie minicamp. It reinforced the team’s decision to trade several picks to move from No. 28 to No. 12 to get Mathews last month. San Diego loves the way Mathews moved around the field. They think he will be an instant factor in both the running and receiving games.
INDIANAPOLIS -- While the Broncos are expected to trade likely restricted free agent receiver Brandon Marshall, Denver coach Josh McDaniels said that is not necessarily the case.

Asked Saturday at the NFL combine if Marshall could be in a Denver uniform in 2010, McDaniels said “certainly.”

McDaniels said there is no timetable to hash out Marshall’s situation. He will likely become a restricted free agent Friday and there is expected to be interest on the trade market. An NFL head coach said Friday he thinks Denver will get a first-round pick in return for Marshall.

"I’m fond of Brandon,” McDaniels said. “He’s a good person and he’s been huge to our team.”

Still, if Denver gets a decent offer expect it to deal Marshall.

Here are other highlights from McDaniels’ session:

• Tight Tony Scheffler could also return. Scheffler is a likely restricted free agent and was suspended for the final game of the season along with Marshall for accountability issues.

• Third-year running back Peyton Hillis will remain on the team and McDaniels is looking forward to getting Hillis more involved. He expects to see third-year receiver Eddie Royal bounce back as well. Both Hillis and Royal were much less productive in McDaniels’ first season than they were as rookies in 2008.

• McDaniels is following the Darrent Williams murder trial and is up to speed on Elvis Dumervil and Marshall’s testimony.

• No. 2 quarterback Chris Simms could remain with the team and McDaniels is happy with Tom Brandstater' progress. McDaniels said the team has “high hopes” for Brandstater in the long run.

• McDaniels is confident new defensive coordinator Don Martindale will “do a phenomenal job.” Martindale, who coached Denver’s linebackers last season, replaced Mike Nolan. McDaniels said Martindale had the support of several of Denver’s players.

• Second-year player Seth Olsen is a candidate to start at left guard and center. McDaniels wants the team to get bigger on the offensive line and that’s one of the reasons why starting center Casey Wiegmann was cut this week.

You pick it responses

February, 5, 2010
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We had a runway winner in our “you pick it’ feature. I’m a bit surprised by it.

But the readers thought Denver promoting linebacker coach Don Martindale to defensive coordinator is the story of the week. Martindale replaced Mike Nolan, who, in a mutual decision with the team, parted ways after one mostly-successful season on defense.

The other candidates were Kansas City not bringing back former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast after it originally thought about keeping him, and the Chiefs bringing back former star defensive back Emmitt Thomas to coach the secondary.

I understand readers thinking the Martindale story was big because of his new position. However, I would have voted for the Thomas story. He was a Hall of Fame player in Kansas City and now the 66-year-old is back as part of a strong, new coaching staff.

But you set the agenda here. Thanks to everyone who participated. Here are some of your responses:

Dan from Denver: The Don Martindale story is the story of the week. He is an up-and-coming coach who will take off where Mike Nolan had this unit.

Joe from Boulder, Colo.: Denver players like Martindale and I think they will play well for him. I think Josh McDaniels really made the right call here.

Townsend from Arkadelphia, Arkansas: Definitely the hiring of Emmitt Thomas to the Chiefs. Todd Haley has assembled quite possibly the best coaching staff anyone in the AFC West has seen in years and hiring Thomas and tight ends coach Bernie Permalee was the icing on the cake in establishing the legitimacy of that franchise again. This is a huge step in solidifying a weakness the Chiefs have had for years. Not only do they have Super Bowl winning coaches but one that's in the Hall of Fame as well. Theres a storm brewing in KC.

Mike from Seattle: I can’t believe All Denver could do to replace Nolan is promoting Martindale from LB coach. That will kill this team in 2010. It’s the story of the week.

Erik from Chicago: Don Martindale was considered for a promotion in Oakland. The Raiders should have given it to him. I think that the linebackers slid back without him, and I was not impressed at all with what John Marshall did this year.

Aaron from Syracuse: BW, The storyline of the week is a two-for-one. It might have been an awkward situation for KC to keep freshly demoted Pendergast on board. So, instead of letting him coach the D Backs, they bring in the man and legend Emmitt Thomas. He knows the game, and should be a great help to the secondary, but let's not overlook how nice it is for the fans. 10 wins in 3 years is stomach turning. Putting Emmitt Thomas on the sideline is a little piece of hope to the fans that someday the Chiefs will be back on top of the AFC West.

DC hire looms huge for McDaniels

January, 28, 2010
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Don Martindale's promotion from Denver's linebackers coach to defensive coordinator is just as important to the career of head coach Josh McDaniels as it is for Martindale.

Ten days ago, McDaniels and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan mutually parted ways. The word from people close to both sides said the two men decided during the season that they weren’t great fits. Nolan, however, was good at his job. He brought instant life into Denver’s defense and the Broncos finished No. 7 in the NFL.

If Martindale fails as a defensive coordinator, and Denver’s defense reverts to the final days of the Mike Shanahan era, it will be reflect poorly on McDaniels. People will blame him for not making it work with Nolan.

I’m not saying this move won’t be successful. The book on Martindale around the league is positive. He is known as a good coach whose players respond well to him.

McDaniels clearly believes there will be no philosophical problems with Martindale as the two worked well together last year. Having the head coach and defensive coordinator on the same page is essential and that’s where this relationship is heading into the 2010 season.

This offseason, Denver will focus on improving the talent on defense, especially in the front seven. There is a decent chance the Broncos’ defense will remain a unit on the rise.

Ultimately, McDaniels’ future could depend on it.

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